Nothing pains and sickens the body, mind and spirit like guilt.
How do you teach your kids the importance of living life with a free conscience?
One way is to share a story about something you’ve done in the past that you’re not particularly proud of.
Crazy, I know, admitting you’re not perfect. But kids love these stories. And if they’re listening, they might accidentally learn something from your mistakes.
I told my kids the worst thing I’ve ever done involved stapling my brother’s friend’s bicycle tires when I was 8 years old.
It was summer back in the days when kids actually played outside their houses.
My tanned, skinny, chlorine-green-blond best friend Maura and I sat on the hot concrete driveway in front of my house, surrounded by thin white cardboard and Crayolas. As we cut out paper dolls we’d drawn, evil Steve Bagley rode up on his bike.
“Hey, Nose,” he called me, making fun of my long, long nose. “What’re those? Paper dolls. Which one’s you? Better get more cardboard for the nose on that one,” he sneered, looking down at me from the perch of his hot rod green Schwinn.
Embarrassment sizzled and seared its way from my eyes, seeping into my heart, landing with a thud in my stomach, where its acid bubbled and brewed and made me want to vomit.
As usual, I said nothing. My throat sore with rage, I pretended be deaf. I grabbed a pair of scissors but had trouble following the lines I’d drawn. Before I knew it I’d accidentally cut my doll’s head at the neck.
She was beheaded, forever deformed, and it was all Steve Bagley’s fault.
I couldn’t look at my friend’s eyes. We stayed there, coloring, cutting, stapling little dresses onto our dolls for several minutes.
As I stapled the neck of my doll back to her head Frankenstein-style, Maura leaned over and whispered in my ear. “I’m going to staple his tires.”
“What?” I said. I was as surprised as I was deliriously pleased. It might very well have been the nicest thing a friend ever did for another friend.
Or was it simply wrong?
I wasn’t sure, but I wasn’t stopping her. She slipped away, to the side of the house, where his bike lay abandoned, resting on the wall. I didn’t see her do it so I wasn’t guilty, right?
I didn’t feel guilty at all. Instead, I felt oddly exhilarated like I imagine most criminals are in the heat of crime, knowing he could come out of the house at any second to catch her. I stood watch. The door did not open.
When Maura returned to the driveway. “I can’t do it,” she complained. “I tried a hundred times. Those stupid tires are as thick as his brain – they’re unpoppable.”
Oh really? I knew, if anyone could pop stupid Steve Bagley’s tires, it could be me. I had a mission. I grabbed the stapler from her hands with this order, “You stand watch.”
I went to the tires, pretending the stapler was Steve Bagley’s head. I gave it one big whack.
Air sizzled out of the tires … and my heart. I felt the adrenaline rush of felony as guilt raced through my bloodstream. What had I done?
Quickly, I collected as many of Maura’s misfired staples as possible. Decades before CSI, I understood the importance of eliminating criminal evidence.
Maura gawked at my masterpiece deflated tire. “Awesome,” she said. “See ya.”
Before we could discuss a cover story or the need to wipe our fingerprints off his bike, she was running across the street, slamming the door behind her.
Later, she told me she watched from her front family room, looking out a big window facing the street. She saw Steve as he mounted his bike and wobbled down the street, then fell.
The next day, my mother knocked on my bedroom door, asking if I knew anything about the incident. I said no, not knowing Maura had confessed all to her mother. She got off scott-free as a result for being “honest.”
While, I, for lying about my involvement, received the cruelest punishment. No “I Love Lucy” for a month!
What? Not that. Not my favorite show. Take away anything but that.
It was the longest month of my life, I told my kids.
“You shoulda just told the truth,” my daughter said when she heard the story.
“Shoulda coulda woulda,” I told her, pleased her she’d learned the lesson.